Another Texas School District To Join The Rebellion?

“There has been a lack of transparency in the bidding process that has caused some of us concern about how rates with such a large pool of people continue to climb at exorbitant levels………… And the sheer fact that I believe with local control we can actually reduce some of those rates and maintain, if not improve upon, the benefits, it’s something we need to look at.”

Editor’s Note: To date 142 Texas school districts have joined the rebellion against the TRS ActiveCare mandate prohibiting member districts from offering a competitive commercial health plan alternative. Mesquite ISD is a large school district that may be doing the same this year. Their quest for competitive alternatives is made much easier because they have been able to obtain their own claim experience going back three years from TRS ActiveCare.

Mesquite ISD renews District of Innovation plan, adds exemption related to healthcare

Chris Roark, croark@starlocalmedia.com

Mar 10, 2021

Mesquite ISD renewed its District of Innovation plan, which among other things gives the district flexibility in when it can start school.

Mesquite ISD officials say being a District of Innovation (DOI) for the last five years has been beneficial to students and staff.

Monday the Board of Trustees voted to continue the program, and it added one more exemption to the districts DOI plan that could provide healthcare cost savings.

MISD has been a District of Innovation since 2017. The program, which became available for school districts in Texas after the 84th Texas Legislature in 2015, allows independent school districts to have many of the same flexibilities that charter schools have.

In order to become a District of Innovation, districts must adopt an innovation plan and follow several Texas Education Agency (TEA) rules. It must renew the plan every five years.

Monday it voted to add an exemption from a state rule that states a district can’t procure negotiations outside of TRS Active Care for health benefits.

“In our opinion the current process allows no flexibility in the design of group health insurance benefits to fit the needs of all Mesquite ISD employees,” Rivera said. “This provision also prohibits the district from procuring group health insurance benefits that may provide better coverages for its employees and at a lower cost.”

Rivera said this vote doesn’t mean MISD would procure its own benefits.

“But we would like the ability to do so in times we think it’s economically best for our staff and employees,” Rivera said. “So if further down the road we’re faced with some kind of hardship that having this in our DOI plan will give us the ability to pursue this if it’s necessary.”

Superintendent David Vroonland said the district staff would like to have a work session at a later date to explore the options of healthcare plans outside of TRS.

He said even if the district uses an alternative, MISD is still obligated to offer a TRS plan.

“There has been a lack of transparency in the bidding process that has caused some of us concern about how rates with such a large pool of people continue to climb at exorbitant levels,” Vroonland said. “And the sheer fact that I believe with local control we can actually reduce some of those rates and maintain, if not improve upon, the benefits, it’s something we need to look at.”

MISD’s current plan has four exemptions, including maintaining a reasonable class size in kindergarten through fourth grade. When staffing issues arise the exemption allows the district to go over the 22:1 student-to-teacher ratio in a classroom at the lower grade levels.

The district also has flexibility on the academic calendar, which allows it to start school earlier.

An exemption lets MISD have a one-year probationary period for Chapter 21 contracts – teachers, nurses, counselors, librarians and media specialists, diagnosticians and administrators.

Per another exemption the district can allow alternatives to educator certification for career and technology education (CTE) courses.

“We have taken advantage of these exemptions for the last four and a half years,” said Angel Rivera, chief of strategic initiatives and community engagement. “And they have served our district well.”

In order to renew its DOI plan the district must receive a majority vote of support by a district advisory committee, which has already taken place, and a two-thirds majority vote by the Board of Trustees. The district must then notify the TEA of the steps taken.

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